There’s a close relationship between the quality of all foods that we eat and the natural environment. For instance, the nourishment we get from plant foods depends on the quality of the soil in which they are grown. The same applies to animal foods and by-products.
The nourishment we get from these foods depends on the lifestyle of the animals, including their access to pasture, fresh air, and most importantly, the quality of their diet.
Though grass-fed foods are becoming more popular in the marketplace, it can, however, sometimes be difficult to find nationally marketed grass-fed products. One excellent option is to find small beef and dairy farms in your local area that are pasture-based.
What Does Grass-Fed Mean?
Indeed, the word ‘grass-fed’ can be confusing because cows and other grass-fed animals may eat a wide variety of plants besides grasses. Grasses, including Timothy grass, foxtail, sorghum, bromegrass, bluegrass, ryegrass, bermudagrass, fescue, orchardgrass, quackgrass, and canarygrass are commonly planted in pastures and almost always play a fundamental role in the diet of grass-fed cows.
Meanwhile, many non-grass plants are also found in pastures, including legumes like vetch, alfalfa, sainfoin, and birdsfoot trefoil as well as red, white, and crimson clover. Depending on the season and region of the country, 100% grass-fed cows may have eaten a mixed variety of the plants above, along with other naturally occurring vegetation.
Nutrient Composition of Grass Fed Raw Milk
Grass feeding is a practice not yet familiar to all consumers. Meanwhile, 100% grass-fed cow’s milk comes from cows who have grazed in pasture year-round rather than being fed a processed diet for much of their life. Grass feeding improves the quality of cow’s milk and makes the milk richer in omega-3 fats, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and CLA, which is a beneficial fatty acid named conjugated linoleic acid.
Benefits of Grass-Fed Cow’s (Raw) Milk
CLA – conjugated linoleic acid – is a type of fat associated with a wide variety of health benefits, including improved blood sugar regulation, reduced body fat, reduced risk of heart attack, immune and inflammatory system support, improved bone mass, and maintenance of lean body mass.
You will find yourself getting at least 75 milligrams of CLA from an 8-ounce serving of grass-fed cow’s milk. This is according to recent studies. In some cases, you may even get two to three times this amount.
The amount of CLA in cow’s milk tends to increase along with the consumption of fresh grasses by the cows, and when cows have had ample access to fresh pasture, you are likely to get increased amounts of CLA.
Since the CLA content of milk from 100% grass-fed cows is typically two to fives times greater than the CLA content of milk from conventionally fed cows, 100% grass-fed milk can provide one with increased health benefits.
Another health benefit that can be obtained from 100% grass-fed cow’s milk is improved intake of omega-3 fat. The omega-3 fat content of grass-fed cow’s milk can vary widely, due to the wide variety of forage crops that can be planted in pastures, or that grow on pastureland in the wild.
The omega-3 content also varies with the age, breed, and health of cows and seasonal plant cycles in pastureland. At the lower end of the spectrum, recent research shows 50-65 milligrams of omega-3s (in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA) in 8 ounces of grass-fed cow’s milk.
At the higher end of the spectrum, those same 8 ounces may provide 120-150 milligrams of omega-3s. Though these amounts of ALA are not large, they’re actually going to be helpful to many individuals who are deficient in omega-3s.
Furthermore, the relatively low ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s in 100% grass-fed cow’s milk may enhance the benefits that you get from this omega-3s. This ratio typically falls between 2:1 and 3:1 – quite unlike the ratio in milk from traditionally fed cows, which often fall into the range of 8:1 or higher.
Because omega-6 metabolism can interfere with omega-3 metabolism, the relatively reduced amounts of omega-6s in 100% grass-fed cow’s milk may help improve the metabolism of omega-3s in the body after the milk has been consumed.
Grass Feeding vs Conventional Feeding (Concentrates)
The food eaten by 100% grass-fed cows is very different from the food eaten by conventionally fed cows. In conventional feeding, the diet typically consists of what are known as ‘total mixed rations’ (TMRs) and ‘concentrates’.
TMRs are a single total food mix and usually consist of grains – like corn – and grain silages (grains that have been harvested, stored, and fermented), hays, and haylages soybean meal, and what is usually called ‘commodity feeds’. The commodity feeds in TMRs may include soybean hulls, citrus pulp, molasses, corn gluten, distillers grains, beet pulp, and other ingredients.
Any of the above components may be combined to make a TMR feed. The purpose of TMRs is actually to provide animals with a comprehensive dietary food source that is available year-round.
Concentrates, like their name suggests, typically supply calories, protein, and other nutrients to cows in a more condensed form. While concentrates may include many of the same ingredients typically found in TMRs, their formulation often places more emphasis on higher-calorie, fat/oil-based components like cottonseed meal or linseed meal along with protein concentrates and vitamin/mineral combinations.
Research studies show clear nutritional advantages from beef, milk, and milk-derived foods, such as cheese and yogurt, obtained from100% grass-fed cows. These advantages typically include better fat quality, often involving more omega-3 fats, better ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, increased amounts of conjugated linoleic acid, and higher quality saturated fat; increased amounts of certain vitamins, for instance, vitamin E, or vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene; and increased amounts of other nutrients.
Why It Is Better to Feed Cattle, Goats, and Sheep Natural Diet
A natural diet for cows consists of plants that can be ‘browsed’ or ‘grazed’. Browsing usually refers to the eating of leaves, twigs, or bark from bushes or trees and grazing generally refers to the eating of grasses.
Cows both browse and graze, but they are definitely less browsers than grazers (they graze more) and their complicated four-part stomach helps them to slowly digest relatively large amounts of grasses. From a historical perspective, the consumption of ground grains has not been part of the cows’ natural diet.
Actually, scientists have acquired this knowledge of cows by studying a broader group of animals to which cows belong. The animals in this group are called ‘ruminants’. Ruminants get their name from the activity of ‘ruminating’, which means chewing their cud.
Ruminants briefly chew their food, swallow it, allow the first chamber in their stomach to partially digest it, and then regurgitate it back into their mouth to chew it again to allow very thorough digestion. Cows are members of this group, along with goats, sheep, deer, and other animals.
By simply studying the evolution of ruminants, scientists have been able to identify the type of food they naturally consume. The unique digestive system of cows and their thorough digestion process is a perfect match with grasses and other plants that are can be found in pasture settings.